Monday, February 11, 2013

Flipping Channels: ABC Does Da Vinci with Zero Hour

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2013 at 7:37 AM

When Tom Hanks' film legacy is assessed in future decades, it's doubtful anyone will cite 2008's The Da Vinci Code among his highlights. About the only good thing that can be said about it is that it made more than $200 million worldwide. That figure is why ABC, a network anxious to have anything succeed that's not a nighttime soap opera, decided to essentially revise that film for the new show Zero Hour.

Zero Hour, which debuts 7 p.m. Thursday on WKRN-Channel 2, marks Anthony Edwards' return to series TV after being away over a decade. He portrays editor Hank Gallison, whose magazine Modern Skeptic delights in ridiculing everything that can't be proved via science, with religion high on the list. But when Gallison's wife is abducted by an international terrorist, he shifts gears from copy editing to pursuing and investigating various conspiracies, all somehow linked to her kidnapping.

Besides Edwards, others in the cast include Scott Michael Foster and Addison Timlin. Just in case anyone had problems making the connection with The Da Vinci Code, there are storylines about 12 new apostles in the thematic mix, alongside the usual run of white supremacists, babies with demonic origins, bizarre lost treasure maps, and a submarine that's frozen in the Arctic.

Edwards embraced the Da Vinci Code resemblance in a recent TV Guide interview, and is well aware he enjoyed unprecedented network success through eight years of ER. Those things seldom happen twice. Zero Hour occupies a brutal time slot, opposite CBS's The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, for starters.

The former has not only been the top-rated comedy all season, but many weeks the No. 1 show, period. The latter, despite a retooled format and the two-season absence of Charlie Sheen, still rolls along so well CBS wants to renew it again, assuming they can get all the cast back. So if it survives, Zero Hour will prove a bigger miracle than many the cast will be investigating.

Southland returns
Among the many dumb things NBC's done the past few years, one move that really stands out was the network's decision to abandon Southland in 2009. There were battles from the beginning between the network and producers over content and language, but NBC originally agreed to bring it back for a second season and improve its promotion.

Instead, The Peacock reneged on the deal, canning the show only a week after claiming it was delaying the second-season launch to give itself more time for show promos. TNT promptly swept in and grabbed it, freeing the show from the creative traps of outdated FCC content restrictions and brain-dead executive interference.

As a result, Southland has flourished. It begins its fifth season on TNT 9 p.m. Wednesday with a new series regular, though a familiar face to series' fans. C. Thomas Howell has been making periodic appearances as Officer Dewey, but joins the program full time in year number five.

Two production changes greatly aided Southland. One was more emphasis on the plotting and execution of crimes; a second was a cutback on serialization. Those decisions enabled the writers and producers to more easily explore multiple stories, and switch between work and home plots. They're also a concession to viewers who missed one or two episodes and felt there was no longer reason to watch, because they were unfamiliar with some long-established character or thematic history.

The Following triumphs
Fox has already reaped big dividends with its new program The Following (which yours truly forgot to DVR this past Monday). The opening episode attracted more than 13 million viewers, while it surpassed 10 for the second episode. During both weeks the show also enjoyed three steady days of DVR use (excepting mine).

Fox rode both The Following and the return of American Idol to Nielsen glory, ending a string of CBS ratings triumphs extending back to November. But CBS still had six of the Top 10 shows.

The program enjoying an incredible revival is CSI, which has been CBS' dominant procedural since its 2000 debut, but had been showing significant signs of declining popularity two years ago. That was the main reason why it was shifted to Wednesday, opening up the prestigious 8 p.m. Thursday time slot for Person of Interest.

CSI ranked fifth among all shows, and third among scripted programs, for the week of Jan. 21-27. It trailed only ABC's Modern Family at 10.8 million live viewers (14.7 including DVRs) and another CBS staple, Criminal Minds, with 11.9 million live viewers (14.4 total). CSI had 11.5 million live and 14.3 million total viewers — an indication the audience has fully embraced the cast changes that brought on board Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue.

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